Say It Loud….Thoughts on “Get On Up”

“God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be.”   Marcus Garvey

"Get On Up" with Chadwick Boseman as James Brown and Nelsan Ellis as Bobby Byrd.  Photo:  Universal Pictures

“Get On Up” with Chadwick Boseman and Nelsan Ellis.     Photo: Universal Pictures

Big hair.  Bold clothes.  Brash moves.  Loud music.  Everything about R&B legend James Brown said it loud.  His look, his music, and his moves made The Hardest Working Man in Show Business who he wanted to be—someone who controlled center stage and who commanded the center of attention.

In Get On Up, the Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment homage to James Brown, Chadwick Boseman commands the full screen like the legendary music-maker commanded the stage.  He has total control channeling Brown—wearing his moves like a fitted suit and mouthing his words in that raspy voice Brown owned.  It is as though the legend himself returned to relive his highs and lows from age 16 to 60 bringing all his bravado and music with him.

James Brown’s story is life as performance art.   In the early thirties, Brown lived as a motherless child in South Carolina before his father took the man-child to live with his aunt in her Georgia brothel.   His poverty and potential pushed him to flip his flaws and find a future in music.   Brown created his genius by mixing talent, hard work, hustle and the burdens of his haunting feelings.  With the insight of Bobby Byrd and the inspiration of Little Richard, Brown’s journey ignited.  His appearances flowed from church choir to chitlin circuit and concert halls to crossover pop charts and international fame.  Along the way, Brown carved fierce R&B rhythms with The Flames and JBs, and he redefined the music industry adding soul and funk to its repertoire.

Director Tate Taylor’s biopic is art imitating life.  With Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth’s screenplay, Taylor gives the audience syncopated beats and burdens of Brown’s life.   The relived life is cyclical.  Moments touch off memories. The audience scans Brown’s story through flips–back and forth–of experiences, events and emotions.  Brown was sometimes up, sometimes down, and always repetitive from his call-and-response punctuated music and magic moves to his prison to performance stage and back again life.  Ultimately, the film’s restless pacing offers those new to James Brown enough to grab and gain some insight into the complex, musical genius and for the nostalgic fans, Taylor gives us the real story we know so well.

With popular songs as the backbone, the strong cast further enhances the movie’s reality.  Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jill Scott and Lennie James are on screen long enough to make lasting impressions.  The confrontation between Davis, as Brown’s long-gone mother, and Boseman personifies the emotional power of strong performances. True Blood’s Nelsan Ellis subtly exemplifies “star time” by owning his role as Bobby Byrd and playing in perfect harmony to Boseman’s every move. Dan Aykroyd quietly contributes as Brown’s longtime booking agent and confirms that Brown even managed his managers.

Timing is everything.  James Brown knew that.  It took about seventeen years to make this biopic.  Producer Brian Grazer had the rights.  Then times changed.  James Brown died.  Legal wrangles ensued.  Grazer waited.  Time waited, too.  Time waited for Tate Taylor to make The Help with Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.  Time waited for Nelsan Ellis to do True Blood.  Time waited for Chadwick Boseman to star as Jackie Robinson in 42.  Then Mick Jagger came on as co-producer.  Legal wrangles ended.  The time was right.  And Get On Up got the feeling right.

Friends and Weekends

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation…There is no play in them, for this comes after work.”    –Henry David Thoreau

Executive producer Harry Lennix with producer Stephanie Frederic and talent from "The Mirror."

Executive producer Harry Lennix with producer Stephanie Frederic and talent from “The Mirror.”

There are men and women who “lead lives of quiet desperation.”  Then, there are my friends who lead loud lives of pure delight.  Their lives are filled with curiosity and adventure mingled with characteristic chaos and insanity.  They see life as never-ending play—whether it’s during work or after work.

This weekend, while some are languishing on a beach, others are consumed by breaking news, and most are on the edge beaten down by the summer’s heat, two of my friends are spending the weekend working on a creative collaboration.

Richard Gant on the set of "The Mirror."

Richard Gant on the set of “The Mirror.”

Richard Gant, part actor and full-time intrepid seeker of wisdom, and Stephanie Frederic, one of Hollywood’s most versatile producers of everything from movies to movie trailers and television shows, are shooting a movie.  In two days, the two of them along with several others will shoot a made-for-TV movie.  Stephanie is one of the producers of The Mirror, the first in a horror trilogy airing later this year on cable’s TV One.  Richard plays a character who commands attention the minute he appears on the screen.

Richard is in the movie due to friends including The Mirror‘s writer/producer Paul Skorich. In it, Richard plays best friend to Harry Lennix of The Blacklist, who also serves as executive producer. Among the other friends of friends appearing in the flick are former The Young and The Restless stars Victoria Rowell and Davetta Sherwood, Aida Rodriguez from Last Comic Standing, and television personality Karrueche Tran. Even a few of Harry’s friends not in the movie including actors George Newbern and Steve Harris dropped by the set to support a friend working on the weekend.

Moviemaking is no simple task to accomplish, especially in a weekend. But for those who choose to enjoy decidedly different lives, anything is possible except desperation. What are you and your friends doing this weekend?

Former "The Young and The Restless" stars  Victoria Rowell and Davetta Sherwood reunite on the set of horror flick "The Mirror."

Former “The Young and The Restless” stars Victoria Rowell and Davetta Sherwood reunite on the set of horror flick “The Mirror.”

On the set of TV movie, "The Mirror."

Harry Lennix with Richard Gant and others on the set of “The Mirror.”

On the set of "The Mirror" with co-stars Aida Rodriguez, Karrueche Tran, Cheryl Francis Harrington and Davetta Sherwood.

On the set of “The Mirror” with co-stars Aida Rodriguez, Karrueche Tran, Cheryl Francis Harrington and Davetta Sherwood.

 George Newborn visiting the set where friend Harry Lennix is shooting a movie.

George Newbern of “Scandal” visiting the set of friend Harry Lennix’s movie.

Friendship... is not something you learn-2


Hollywood, Change is Here

Hollywood Sign

Image via Wikipedia

Movies released during the past several years and the announcement of the 83rd Academy Awards® nominations, prove Hollywood has not seen–or maybe has not read–the news lately. There is little evidence Hollywood fully understands how much the world has and continues to change.  It is far more diverse.  The lack of diverse images in mostly male produced Hollywood movies resulted in primarily men of one ethnicity receiving a majority of the Oscar nominations.  Women did get nominated in the expected categories–best actress and supporting actress–and a sprinkle of other areas.   The women, too, represented primarily one ethnicity.  The most diversity appeared in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

Change is here.  The most powerful man in the world, President Obama, and the richest woman in the entertainment business, Oprah, are African-Americans.  Hispanics are the fastest growing U.S. population according to the recent census.  America’s narrative includes the stories of Native Americans, Asian Americans and heritages linked to the Caribbean, Cuba and the Pacific Islands as well as Europe. Worldwide women serve as heads of state in many countries.  According to The Nielsen Company, women control almost $12 trillion of the $18 trillion in global spending.

We live in a much more multicultural country and world then existed when the first movies were being made.    The other Hollywoods, Bollywood in India and Africa’s Nollywood, cater to their varied movie-loving public with very lucrative results.  They get it.  People still love being entertained, seduced and mesmerized by motion pictures.  They still have heightened appetites for movies.  In 2011, with exposure to so much more, movie tastes have expanded from bland to spicy and from vanilla only to multiple flavors. Portraying a variety of genres, cultures, and communities in movies will satisfy  audiences, financially gratify studios and even reap rewards on Oscar night.

By 2020, only 30 percent of the households in the United States will have kids and most of them will be multicultural according to Nielsen research. Therefore, Hollywood has less than ten years to produce more movies with people who look like and have experiences reflective of the changing American and global families. There are a wealth of untold stories from all communities still to be told, countless characters in all hues to be created and innumerable adventures to entertain us with on the big screen.  Hollywood still has an opportunity to take a risk of award-winning proportions and reinvent itself by producing and releasing more movies for our fast changing 21st century audiences.    Will change change Hollywood?